The Drunken Snowman

Snowman

The snowman stood on the opposite side of the driveway from the illuminated inflatable Nativity set, guarding like a sentinel in front of the gabled white paneled house in comfortable American suburbia. On this frigid, sable evening in the heart of dark December, the family was cooking dinner in the kitchen through the cross-hatched windows behind the corbeled arch of the balcony, and the lamps within shed a lambent glow over the blanket of newly fallen snow straight out of a warm Thomas Kinkade portraiture. Bright white holiday lights accentuated the sharp triangular borders of the shingled roof to resemble a hotel restaurant ambience in its graceful simplicity. The carefully curated façade was fitting for inclusion in the glossy pages of the latest edition of Home and Garden magazine. The father of the family had to have been a lawyer, doctor, or real estate agent to afford such luxuries. Or perhaps the mother was an account executive of some sort, in the interest of gender equality. The snowman did not particularly care either way.

The snowman lamented that he had no family to call his own. Sure, the preppy children in this rich abode called him forth from the powdery milk crystals presently sprinkling upon him from the wispy clouds of the stars, yet he felt he was made of nothing but ice. He needed something to warm him, an anodyne for his pain, an analgesic for his suffering. Some alchemical antidote to catalyse the water hardened within him into the airy ether that could give him life.

In short, he needed a stiff drink to ward off the cold. Lo and behold, the mailman came for the last delivery on the block, and what do you know, he dropped off a holiday gift in the form of a winter cherry port from some distant relative, contained in a Spanish leather gourd bota bag for an artisanal touch, nestled in a wicker basket. Little did the family know that night brought the snowman to life. He stretched the yawed sapling branches of his arms with forked twigs for fingers and adjusted his second boulder of snow for a torso, while blinking his button eyes on his frosty head, wriggling his carrot nose, grinning with his mouth of coal, and propping his top-hat at a rakish angle as he formulated the plan of attack. He had a corncob pipe and a red scarf to perfect the picture. He slid his bottom ball down the snow bank towards the quaint brick mailbox and investigated the contents of the package as soon as the mailman drove away into the purple dusk.

After much difficulty, he extracted the sack from the box and unscrewed the lid as the crisp mist wreathed about him. He put the juice’s tip to his pebble lips and took a sip. It was sweet and hearty. He took a swig, as the liquid filled his rotund middle and flushed a dash of Santa Claus’ rubicund complexion to his cheeks. He felt alive, like he could do anything, or be anyone! Soon, the fountain of mirth was drained to the dregs as he sucked the bladder dry and squeezed its final remains down his frozen gullet. He slipped and sloshed, slid and slobbered back to his place across from the Nativity. He felt fluid and permeable, come sleet, come hail.

The lights went off throughout the house as the children were tucked into bed. The snowman sensed a queer tingling spreading throughout his body. He turned to the window of the children’s bedroom on the first floor and knocked with his wooden hand, but no one responded. He inched himself onto the porch and rapped on the door, but he had no better luck. Never did he feel more alone, more apart from the whole of creation. He thought of all the accidents he had seen on the road in front of him over the course of the past couple of months, and how no one had bothered to build him a friend or a family in the front yard as he stood beneath the stars alone. A sadness melted him inside. Those humans had made him, but they did not care about him. “Why was I to be made of snow, made to be alone?” he wept peppermint tears as he looked up to the snowy clouds, hiding the heavens from his sight. As he collapsed into a heap of mush, the vacuum fan of the Nativity scene whirred, giving him some quiet company in a commercialized commemoration of the time God found no room in an inn.

 

When the children had awoken the next morning, they bawled their little eyes out to find their beloved snowman bowled over in a crumpled heap in the front yard, as if he had been bulldozed by a stray truck. All that remained was a hat, a pipe, a scarf, a pile of stones, and a couple of sticks amidst the dirty precipitation… along with a wine pouch hidden in the drift.

“Why, Daddy, why?” they blubbered as their mother attempted to get them ready for the impending school bus in the last weeks of the year.

For an instant, he suspected the machinations of a neighborhood vandal. “I don’t know what could have happened, kids. He must have melted overnight, the temperature just got above freezing. We’ll build another.” As he went up the front sidewalk to get the morning mail, he stopped in his tracks. “Hey, who took the bottle of port the Joneses sent us this year?”

“I don’t know, dear!” the mother responded knowingly from the porch. Little did she know that that answer lied at their very feet.

The Great Crucifix

 

Crucifix Mission Santa Clara

No pilgrimage to Mission Santa Clara is complete without paying compulsory homage before the altar of the great Crucifix, which never fails to inspire compunction with its Spanish grotesque stateliness. Jesus gazes down upon the devotee with a piteous expression. His skin is blanched by loss of blood, which runs in black rivulets from his pierced hands, feet, and heart. Beneath this Crucifix, there lies buried in a tomb the remains of the Venerable Father Magin Catala, perhaps the most famous Franciscan friar (second only to Saint Junipero Serra) to be associated with the Mission. Second-class relics like the great Crucifix pose a problem for curators placing the object in the context of a museum exhibit. While Indiana Jones said of the golden crucifix in The Last Crusade, “It belongs in a museum!” it may be more properly said, “It belongs in a church!” However, there is a way of situating devotional art in relation to its historical milieu without detracting from – but rather, enhancing – the piety of those who come to pray.

At the time of writing, little about the austere presentation of the Crucifix within the Mission intimates the mythos enveloping it, except for small pamphlet cards that allude briefly to the legend of the great Crucifix. The tales of Catala and the Crucifix could receive a new lease on life if Father Zephyrin Englehardt’s hagiographical tract The Holy Man of Santa Clara[1] were reprinted from the digital archives and made available in the narthex of the Mission. This text’s abundant references to the great Crucifix deepen one’s appreciation for the fact that this Crucifix constituted the crux of the community that grew up around the Santa Clara Mission.

As any tour guide will tell you, the Crucifix has entered Santa Clara lore for supposedly animating and embracing a levitating Magin Catala, rapt in ecstatic contemplation:

It was the firm opinion of the people that his sympathy for the Crucified Lord      raised the holy man above the earth, and that both were in fond embrace of each           other… In the Process of 1884 six witnesses testified to the report regarding          visions before the Crucifix… A messenger going to the church discovered Fr.        Magin raised up high in the air on a level with the Cross. The Savior had     unfastened His hands and was resting them on the shoulders of the holy man. The          servant informed Fr. Viader, who on going to the church saw nothing more than     that a bright light surrounded the kneeling Fr. Magin. This testimony was        corroborated by Rufino Saiz, Berta Guadalupe, Antonia Flores, and Encarnacion    Soto.[2]

Although such anecdotal evidence would not stand the scrutiny of many a modern-day historian to qualify as empirical proof, the testimony of the parishioners lends credence to an otherwise far-fetched claim with all the trappings of medieval sanctity, rife with signs and wonders.

One instance of this miraculous phenomenon is especially salient, when a certain Jose Alviso spotted Father Catala praying at his customary vantage before the Crucifix during Holy Week: “Suddenly Fr. Magin was heard to sigh aloud in Spanish, ‘When, O my God, shall I see Thy glory? How much longer shall my banishment last in this valley of tears?’ Awe-stricken, Alviso heard the answer coming from the cross, ‘Soon thou shalt see God in glory.’”[3] Not infrequently, Father Catala passed entire nights at the altar and fell asleep at the foot of the Crucifix, where he besought God for the salvation of the souls entrusted to his care. Thus, Father Catala earned his resting place in death beneath the Crucifix where he had spent so many hours of his life, longing to meet his God face to face.

While the Crucifix may have attracted attention due to these spectacles alone, Father Magin made it the key of communion in the missionary community, and he frequently led the congregation along the circular pilgrimage of the Way of the Cross. Every Friday afternoon, Father Catala, Ignacio Alviso, and two Indian attendants would lead the Crucifix before the faithful in procession from one station to the next, despite the Crucifix’s great heaviness.[4] Fittingly, Father Catala instilled an aversion to wrongdoing in the children of the Mission, on account of the Precious Blood poured out for the sake of humanity’s salvation. Again, one particular procession from the annals of Santa Clara merits special mention. During one of the many droughts endemic to California’s Mediterranean dry climate, both then and now, Father Catala lit candles before the great Crucifix and brought it out to carry along the Way of the Cross through Alameda half-way to San Jose. A dark storm cloud brewed overhead and proceeded to shower sheets of rain for a week. This downpour produced a great harvest the following fall, and the prayers of the peasant people had been answered through the intercession of Father Catala before the great Crucifix.[5] In the present drought, California would do well to resurrect the great Crucifix of Mission Santa Clara for processions once again to invoke the Lord of the Harvest to bless the crops with copious raindrops.

However, the graces accompanying the great Crucifix were not confined to mystical locutions or beneficent influences over the natural elements. Genuine healings took place under its auspices as well, even after Father Catala had gone on to his eternal reward. Application of second-class relics, such as pieces of cloth from Father Catala’s habit, never failed to safeguard the delivery of infants with their mothers, as well as allaying headaches and other maladies.[6] Likewise, Rafaela Pacheco promised to present two colored cords to the great Crucifix, if only Father Catala would heal her of breast cancer from beyond the grave. Sure enough, in three days, her tumor completely subsided.

Given the wondrous occurrences emanating from the intercession of Father Catala at the foot of the great Crucifix of Santa Clara, his first-class remains deserve to stay in close proximity to the beacon whereby he had shepherded his flock in life. The miracles performed through his intercessory prayer before the Crucifix have only continued after his death. Since Jesus teaches us in the Gospels that efficacy of miracles relies upon the strength of the faith of the believer who seeks them, stories such as these must be retold, if they are to be repeated in the future. Thus, an exhibit featuring the faces, the names, and the dates of these blessed personages – insofar as the archives indicate – could foster an increased awareness of the history the Crucifix in the life of the Mission. Furthermore, in the context of this sacred space, Candelario Rivas’ rendering of the Vision of Saint Francis to the left of the main altar of the Mission Church visually typifies the great Crucifix’s embrace of the Holy Man of Santa Clara, intensifying one’s petition for the graces Christ is dying to give. Even if such a visible miracle escapes the purview of most, one can at the very least imitate the fervent piety and mortified spirit of Father Catala and his holy father Saint Francis with the hope and trust that Christ invisibly embraces all who come to Him at the great Crucifix.

[1] Engelhardt, Zephyrin. The Holy Man of Santa Clara; Or, Life, Virtues and Miracles of Fr. Magin Catala, O.F.M. San Francisco, Cal.: James H. Barry, 1909.

 

 

[2] Englehardt, The Holy Man of Santa Clara, 174.

[3] Ibid., 77.

[4] Ibid., 85.

[5] Ibid., 143.

[6] Ibid., 187.